This weekend, while mindlessly working on my taxes, I happened to watch part of “Alaska Frontier” on TV. My attention was drawn to the young couple building their cabin in the wilderness and their excitement at the husband’s successful installation of running water.
Water was collected from a spring above the cabin and gravity fed into the house. With the first turn of the spigot the young mother exclaimed, “I hope I never take running water for granted!”
I’m sure residents of Flint, Michigan, and Sebring, Ohio, are probably feeling a similar, yet frustrating, emotion, as they deal with the impact of lead in their water. During the mid-1800s, large communities across the nation faced health issues, such as cholera and other water-borne diseases. At that time, water treatment facilities did not exist, nor were there any sanitary sewer systems. Even after waste water pipes were installed, stormwater was combined with the sewer systems because no one recognized that diseases were derived from contaminated water sources. After all, it was cheaper to build one system than two, and everyone knows, “the solution to pollution is dilution.”
These systems dumped raw sewage and stormwater directly into streams, rivers and lakes. Cities that had sanitary sewer systems back in the late 1800s treated their sewage by land application, which did little to minimize the disease problems.
At the turn of the 20th century, water and sewer treatment was largely handled at the local level, with state regulation. It was not until Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 that the federal government provided comprehensive planning, technical services, research and financial assistance to states and local communities to build infrastructure to handle waste and water treatment. This was, and continues to be today, a monumental task – protecting our nation’s water supplies.
Yet, how many of us think about any of this as we turn on the faucet to get a drink of water, take a shower or fill the coffee pot? We simply trust that, when we turn on the faucet, clean clear water will come out – and when it doesn’t or is contaminated, we get angry. In some cases, there is justification for that anger. In all cases, each of us can do more to help protect our water. Just as we don’t think about the quality of our running water, sometimes we don’t think about our everyday actions and how they can impact our drinking water.
• Expired prescription drugs – Do you pour them down the drain or throw them in the trash? These chemicals can get into the water supply directly or leach into the groundwater. They should be disposed of through the Delaware County medication disposal program. Go to http://www.delawarecountysheriff.com/index.php/programs for information.
• Pet waste – Leaving pet waste in your yard or along the path when you walk your pet is a potential source of bacteria and viruses. “Two or three days’ worth of droppings from a population of 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria to create unsafe swimming areas within a 20-mile radius,” according to the city of Delaware’s website.
• Used motor oil, chemicals, excess lawn fertilizer, pesticides, etc. — Dumping these items down the storm drain is like dumping them directly into the river or lake. If you need to dispose of these types of potential contaminants, please do so in a responsible manner. Used motor oil should be taken to designated drop-off stations or recycle centers. Left over fertilizer and pesticides should be taken to hazardous waste collections. Go to the Delaware-Knox-Marion-Morrow Solid Waste District’s website — http://dkmm.org/ — for scheduled collection dates.
When we pour a leftover dose of medicine down the drain, we think “this little bit won’t hurt anything.” However, when you combine your actions with those of the rest of the city residents (38,000 people), this can potentially have a large financial and environmental impact. When you look at the county population of more than 189,000 and growing, the actions of all residents taken together can have an overwhelming impact on the quality of our water.
Start taking action today and never take clean, running water for granted.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.